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Friday, Mar 29 2013 11:00 PM

Way to set an example for teens, mom

By The Bakersfield Californian

The next time you hold a conversation with your teenage driver about the dangers of texting while driving -- and we hope you do so now and then -- don't be surprised if he has a little talk in store for you, too.

A new AT&T-administered poll reveals that more California adults admit to texting while driving than teens. According to the poll results, 49 percent of adults admitted to texting while driving to and from work, compared with 43 percent of teens.

More troubling findings: Due largely to public service ads and stepped-up law enforcement efforts, drivers statewide have nearly complete awareness of the dangers of texting while driving. Ninety-eight percent of respondents said they know the practice is dangerous, but more than 40 percent of respondents called it "a habit."

We have compelling evidence that texting while driving is at least as dangerous as driving while intoxicated, if not more so. A widely reported test by Car and Driver magazine revealed that it took a text-reading driver about nine times longer to brake a vehicle than a legally drunken driver, and a text-writing driver about 18 times longer.

Earlier this month, the Bakersfield Police Department issued 92 cellphone citations in an enforcement program that lasted just six hours. Statewide last year, more than 400,000 cellphone citations were issued.

Once upon a time, drunken driving was considered no big deal. It was openly portrayed as harmless on television and in movies. That attitude changed as the body count on America's roadways simply became too great to ignore, and society demanded action. Drunken driving is no longer "no big deal"-- it is a serious social and criminal issue with severe legal ramifications.

We need to take the same view with texting while driving, and we need to do it now, not years from now when the body count becomes unbearable. The existing law prohibiting cellphone use while driving works. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, deaths caused by cellphone use while driving have declined 22 percent since the existing law was implemented in 2008.

Despite that improvement, the issue deserves renewed attention, be it tougher penalties, better enforcement or technology-based solutions. The current base fine of $20 (about $76 with court costs and penalties) for a first offense and $50 ($190) for a second is paltry. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a proposed fine increase last year. Is he taking this seriously enough?

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